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article imageTrump wanted ally to lead probe targeting him: report

By AFP     Feb 19, 2019 in Politics

US President Donald Trump denied a report Tuesday that said he had sought to install an ally to oversee an investigation into payoffs to two women during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The probe centers on payments made by Michael Cohen, Trump's attorney at the time, to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, who allegedly had affairs with Trump.

Late last year, Trump asked Matthew Whitaker -- who at the time was his acting attorney general -- whether a sympathetic prosecutor could head up the probe, The New York Times reported.

Trump denied having made such a request.

"More fake news," Trump told reporters. "There is a lot of fake news out there. No, I didn't."

According to the Times, Trump asked Whitaker if Geoffrey Berman, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York and a Trump supporter, could oversee the probe.

After Whitaker said that was not possible because Berman had already recused himself from the case, Trump reportedly grew frustrated with Whitaker, the Times said, citing US officials anonymously.

The Justice Department later issued a statement saying Whitaker stood by earlier testimony to Congress where he denied the White House had ever made any requests of him over any probes.

"Under oath to the House Judiciary Committee, then acting attorney general Whitaker stated that 'at no time has the White House asked for nor have I provided any promises or commitments concerning the special counsel's investigation or any other investigation,'" spokeswoman Kerri Kupec told AFP.

"Mr Whitaker stands by his testimony."

Whitaker was replaced last week by Bill Barr, following his Senate confirmation.

Cohen has said a $130,000 payment was made to porn actress Stormy Daniels and $150,000 to former Playboy model Karen McDougal.

Prosecutors have described the payments as illegal campaign contributions intended to influence the election. Cohen said they were made "in coordination and at the direction" of Trump.

Cohen has been sentenced to three years in prison for tax evasion and other crimes he said were undertaken at Trump's bidding.

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